Sesame Street doesn’t need PBS anymore

A day after PBS announced it would trim Sesame Street to a half hour, Sesame Workshop and HBO delivered a bombshell today — Sesame Street will move to HBO.

The cable channel will produce more episodes and expand the Sesame Street content.

Meanwhile, PBS will air reruns of past shows, and will be allowed to carry the new ones, nine months after they air on HBO.

Question: If the private market is now capable of producing quality programming, why do we need a PBS?

A spokesman had an answer ready when the New York Times asked.

“Sesame Workshop’s new partnership does not change the fundamental role PBS and stations play in the lives of families,” Anne Bentley, a PBS spokeswoman, said in a statement, noting that PBS stations reach more children ages 2 to 5, more mothers of children under 6 and more low-income children than any children’s TV network, according to Nielsen.

The significance of the move, however, can’t be downplayed. PBS is Sesame Street, as we found out in the last presidential election.

There’s a downside for kids here. They or their parents may have a hard time getting to Sesame Street.

Now that big money is involved, Sesame Street is removing episodes from Amazon and Netflix.

As one public TV station exec said yesterday, “it’s always about the money.”

  • Lobd

    And now poor families will have to pay for access to the show. I never thought I’d see the day.

    • Well they won’t have to. And is a 9-month-old show going to make much difference? I think what we’re seeing, however, is a continuing cultural shift in which smart programming CAN be a moneymaking “brand” for commercial interests, which could eliminate — or curtail — a niche that non-commercial interests have filled.

      • Lobd

        I think a nine-month delay (a whole school year) makes some of the material less relevant. The artists’ stars may have faded, or the lesson taught may get dated. It also fundamentally treats the non-paying families as slightly second-rate.

        • John

          I don’t think you’re on track. The lessons of value for that age group are not going out of vogue in 9 months. We gave up cable 3 years ago and went to antenna and netflix. It took a year, but now the kids get new to us shows on Netflix that were new to everyone else last year. Including PBS programming, which they watch as much or more than anything else.

          Who would you suggest pay for the programming, btw? I’m curious on that front – if CTC isn’t taking in enough money via PBS distribution to make it worthwhile, then they have to move on to someone that is willing/able to pay for it. I don’t care if they’re non-profit, they have to have enough money coming in to keep the lights on. If HBO is willing to foot the bill, then I think that’s great. We still get the shows for free, and those who are willing/able to pay a premium to watch them before me are welcome to do so.

          • Lobd

            We probably aren’t the people being affected, are we? We are TPT and MPR members with time and resources and the language to hunt around for deals. The non-English speaking family that just rolled into town with a limited income may feel differently.

          • John

            I would argue that the 9 month delay before PBS broadcasts the shows is even less of an issue for a non-English speaking family that just rolled into town than for an up to date English speaking four year old from East Grand Forks. Sesame Street (as far as I know – it’s been a couple years since anyone in my house has been interested) is not a current events show – it’s a show that teaches basic language and math skills. Those lessons are pretty timeless.

            For the record, I am not a TPT member (mpr, yes). My life isn’t going to change one way or the other, regardless of what they do or did, I just find the discussion interesting. (I’ll also not be an HBO member any time soon – I just don’t find much value in television any more.)

  • Kassie

    I’m surprised they are being pulled from Amazon since HBO has all their older shows on Amazon.

    And this really sounds like a win/win. Sesame Street gets to still be an hour long and without commercials. HBO gets some good family programming. PBS gets to keep its show.

    • Postal Customer

      but HBO now has their own streaming service.

      • Kassie

        Yes, but they still have the Amazon deal. They don’t put the newest stuff out there, but we are currently watching Deadwood. The newest stuff and the movies are on the streaming service.

    • Jeff

      >> Children’s programming is a popular category for streaming services, with the outlets recognizing that they can entice parents to subscribe if they capture their children’s attention.

      I guess it’s not all altruism on HBO’s part.

  • Vince Tuss

    This to me is sadder than yesterday.

  • Postal Customer

    “I’m not going to borrow money from China to pay for PBS.”

    It’s one of those zingers that politicians use in which there are more falsehoods, distractions, strawmen, than there are words in the sentence.

  • Jack Ungerleider

    “Question: If the private market is now capable of producing quality programming, why do we need a PBS?”

    This statement implies that the private market hasn’t been capable of producing quality programming up until now. While I’ll agree recent network television offerings contain few things I would like watch, there was a time when the networks created quality programming. PBS has always been the home of programming that the networks wouldn’t produce. I believe that is still its role. For example, there was a time when networks produced quality investigative documentaries, now they don’t do this (I don’t think 48 hours qualifies as a quality documentary), its something that PBS does and does well.

    • // there was a time when the networks created quality programming.

      Not for children there wasn’t. Not on broadcast TV. There was no money in it. That’s why almost all children’s programming were actually commercials.

      • Kassie

        I guess your definition of quality would matter, but I watched Saturday morning cartoons on networks growing up. After school every day there were cartoons too. He Man, Smurfs, Scooby Doo, Duck Tails, Inspector Gadget, and Jem were all show I loved as a kid. Sure Sesame Street is great for 3 year olds, but they had nothing for school age kids.

        • Yes, definitions change. And what you described watching as kid — which were really come-ons for the commercials — is crap that had no lasting value and served no other purpose than to get you to want to eat Cocoa Puffs.

          School-age kids is a wide demo, but I think Mister Rogers qualified for the immediate post Sesame Street demo. After that demo, I think Reading Rainbow probably served the audience that came next.

          But it’s not really a question of what you loved that defines quality. It’s the definition of value as educational and developmental tool.

          Those shows on commercial TV were a gateway to coach potatoehood.

          that said, I THINK you could make an argument for Captain Kangaroo, which a CBS production, but I don’t know if I’ve ever sat through an entire episode as an adult to see whether it offered anything.

          • The other aspect of Sesame Street and how it made PBS a popular brand for children is that those children mostly grew up to be much more enlightened parents than the ones of the earlier ’60s and ’50s w.r.t. what their children did with their TV time.

            I’d have to do some research, of course, but it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that CTC actually helped usher in a new philosophy of early childhood development that continues to this day.

          • Kassie

            By the time I was 6 I wasn’t watching Mister Rogers, Electric Company or Sesame Street. Reading Rainbow I did watch until I was like 8 or 9. So PBS had a half an hour of “quality television” for kids like me, not really filling that need. And if you state those shows were all just come-ons for commercials, then that’s what all network TV is except breaking news that overrides the commercials.

            The other adult in my household still watches these TV cartoons from my youth. Clearly they have lasting value to him. And I learned a lot about communism from the Smurfs, obviously. (That last bit is a joke, no one freak out.)

          • I don’t know that b/c you weren’t watching them means they didn’t have it, but yeah.

            and, yes, I think the role of non-commercial broadcasts in children’s programming especially can’t be overstated.

            In terms of “value,” I’m referring to childhood development, not popularity.

          • Jerry

            your kids must be too young if you never learned “now you know, and knowing is half the battle”

          • Postal Customer

            Except that Mr Rogers was terrible. Way too wholesome and saccharine.

            Come to think of it, though, we did eat a hell of a lot of cocoa puffs during the Reagan administration. Maybe it was all that Nickelodeon we watched.

          • Nick K

            What about Mr. Wizard’s World (1980s revival), Today’s Special, and Pinwheel? All taught kids something and I think all were only available on pay-tv (at least in the US). I would also argue Muppet Babies had a distinct value (learning to imagine and each week brought a new lesson).

        • Postal Customer

          PBS had Mathnet. That was hilarious.

          • Kassie

            Actually, they also had Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego, that’s a good one too.

          • I watched that every evening. And I was in my 50s.

          • Jack

            We adults couldn’t wait to get home from work to watch Carmen. Sad when that show went away.

      • Jack Ungerleider

        Fair enough, but the original statement was a blanket statement and that’s what I felt was a little out of line.

        • Obviously I disagree. but I grew up a Peggy Charren fan.

  • Jeff

    I’d like to see a crossover with Big Bird guest starring in Game of Thrones. Ramsay wouldn’t stand a chance.

  • John

    Not gonna get much attention, but the current crop of kids programs on PBS is fantastic. My kids pretty much only watch the PBS Kids streaming app and never watched Sesame Street. Peg + Cat, Daniel Tiger and Odd Squad are all amazing shows that still do what public television does best, offer educational programs that still maintain kids interest. Plus, TPT produces a really great show my daughter watches called Sci Girls. Sesame Street has never been that interesting to them nor to me as an adult who cares about what my kids are watching. And don’t get me started on the crap on Nick Jr. or Disney.

    • SciGirls in particular is an awesome show.

    • Lobd

      They are great shows! That’s all my boys watch, and they are 7&9. When they are home sick and need to veg, those are the shows they hone in on. Daniel Tiger got one to eat red pepper! And S.S. still gives them a chuckle.

    • Kurt O

      PBS Kids is huge with my son (Curious George and Ruff Ruffman in particular these days) . We found Pocoyo and Peppa Pig on Nick Jr, and they are really good. They don’t get shown very often because they’re European, so we bought DVD’s.

  • asiljoy

    I wonder how Mr Rogers would feel about this. While free access is still available, it is not equal and is pushing those who can’t pay to a second tier. And he was definitely for his programming being available to all to enjoy in their own way, in their own time:

    And I get that it’s still going to be available on PBS eventually. But. I dunno, this just feels… icky. Hopefully those more articulate can put into words why monetizing content in this way has issues.

    • crystals

      It reminds me a bit of when a public school in southwest Minneapolis auctioned off a dedicated parking spot at the front of the building to the highest parent/family bidder. It leads to that icky feeling that you get the best access to a public good only if you can pay for it. (I think the school rolled back that particular privilege & auction item after some backlash, but am doubtful that PBS & HBO will do the same regardless of what the backlash may be.)

      • asiljoy

        And it’s a double edge sword right? Perhaps with more funding, more content is created and happiness ensues?

        Or with the school example, more money means more teachers or funding for before school breakfast?

        I miss being a kid watching Sesame Street where gray areas weren’t so gray, and there was a nice adult to explain why the world sucked sometimes but everything was going to be ok.

        • crystals


  • John

    Okay, so I get that a lot of you feel that Sesame Street should be something that everyone gets for free (or by freewill donation) at the same time via PBS. That’s the way it’s been.

    I presume that the reason Sesame Workshop is selling first right distribution to HBO is because PBS and their other sponsors were no longer able/willing to supply enough funding to make the program go. I just looked at the sesame workshops web site, and they have a lot of sponsors. Less altruistically thinking – the management at Sesame Workshop wants to get a raise, and HBO will allow them to give themselves one. I don’t know which is true, though based on the philosophy that the group has, I suspect it’s more of the former than the latter.

    Assuming, for the moment, that the $$ isn’t there to keep it as a first run show on PBS, which of these scenarios would you prefer (feel free to suggest any other options as well, but keep them realistic – making the show isn’t free):

    1) The show closes up shop and goes off the air, with reruns on PBS and Sesame Street themed parks, live show, etc. dwindling away over the next ten years.

    2) The current scenario where those who are able/willing/interested in paying for first viewing rights do so, and the rest of the world waits 9 months to get it for free.

    My guess is that is the sort of question that the folks over at Sesame Workshops were faced with. What would you do?

    • Veronica

      Ack! You’re being reasonable and logical!

    • Jack

      Go for reruns like Prairie Home Companion. I’ve heard that it is evergreen. 🙂

      • John

        I believe that is part of both plans.

  • nickp91

    Big Bird fight a dragon in a Sesame Street/Game of Thrones crossover episode

  • Dave Wollenberg

    HBO and PBS DON’T CARE about what the kids want!